“We just left the east cloister,” Langdon said, “so the south exit to the garden must be through there and to the right.”

Sophie was already stepping over the swag and moving forward.

As they hurried down the dark corridor, the sounds of the wind and rain from the open cloister faded behind them. The Chapter House was a kind of satellite structure—a freestanding annex at the end of the long hallway to ensure the privacy of the Parliament proceedings housed there.

“It looks huge,” Sophie whispered as they approached.

Langdon had forgotten just how large this room was. Even from outside the entrance, he could gaze across the vast expanse of floor to the breathtaking windows on the far side of the octagon, which rose five stories to a vaulted ceiling. They would certainly have a clear view of the garden from in here.

Crossing the threshold, both Langdon and Sophie found themselves having to squint. After the gloomy cloisters, the Chapter House felt like a solarium. They were a good ten feet into the room, searching the south wall, when they realized the door they had been promised was not there.

They were standing in an enormous dead end.

The creaking of a heavy door behind them made them turn, just as the door closed with a resounding thud and the latch fell into place. The lone man who had been standing behind the door looked calm as he aimed a small revolver at them. He was portly and was propped on a pair of aluminum crutches.

For a moment Langdon thought he must be dreaming. It was Leigh Teabing.

CHAPTER 99

Sir Leigh Teabing felt rueful as he gazed out over the barrel of his Medusa revolver at Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu. “My friends,” he said, “since the moment you walked into my home last night, I have done everything in my power to keep you out of harm’s way. But your persistence has now put me in a difficult position.”

He could see the expressions of shock and betrayal on Sophie’s and Langdon’s faces, and yet he was confident that soon they would both understand the chain of events that had guided the three of them to this unlikely crossroads.

There is so much I have to tell you both … so much you do not yet understand.

“Please believe,” Teabing said, “I never had any intention of your being involved. You came to my home. You came searching for me.” “Leigh?” Langdon finally managed. “What the hell are you doing?

We thought you were in trouble. We came here to help you!” “As I trusted you would,” he said. “We have much to discuss.”

Langdon and Sophie seemed unable to tear their stunned gazes from the revolver aimed at them.

“It is simply to ensure your full attention,” Teabing said. “If I had wanted to harm you, you would be dead by now. When you walked into my home last night, I risked everything to spare your lives. I am a man of honor, and I vowed in my deepest conscience only to sacrifice those who had betrayed the Sangreal.”

“What are you talking about?” Langdon said. “Betrayed the Sangreal?”

“I discovered a terrible truth,” Teabing said, sighing. “I learned why the Sangreal documents were never revealed to the world. I learned that the Priory had decided not to release the truth after all. That’s why the millennium passed without any revelation, why nothing happened as we entered the End of Days.”

Langdon drew a breath, about to protest.

“The Priory,” Teabing continued, “was given a sacred charge to share the truth. To release the Sangreal documents when the End of Days arrived. For centuries, men like Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Newton risked everything to protect the documents and carry out that charge. And now, at the ultimate moment of truth, Jacques Saunière changed his mind. The man honored with the greatest responsibility in Christian history eschewed his duty. He decided the time was not right.” Teabing turned to Sophie. “He failed the Grail. He failed the Priory. And he failed the memory of all the generations that had worked to make that moment possible.”

“You?” Sophie declared, glancing up now, her green eyes boring into him with rage and realization. “You are the one responsible for my grandfather’s murder?”

Teabing scoffed. “Your grandfather and his sénéchaux were traitors to the Grail.”

Sophie felt a fury rising from deep within. He’s lying!

Teabing’s voice was relentless. “Your grandfather sold out to the Church. It is obvious they pressured him to keep the truth quiet.”

Sophie shook her head. “The Church had no influence on my grandfather!”

Teabing laughed coldly. “My dear, the Church has two thousand years of experience pressuring those who threaten to unveil its lies. Since the days of Constantine, the Church has successfully hidden the truth about Mary Magdalene and Jesus. We should not be surprised that now, once again, they have found a way to keep the world in the dark. The Church may no longer employ crusaders to slaughter nonbelievers, but their influence is no less persuasive. No less insidious.” He paused, as if to punctuate his next point. “Miss Neveu, for some time now your grandfather has wanted to tell you the truth about your family.”

Sophie was stunned. “How could you know that?”

“My methods are immaterial. The important thing for you to grasp right now is this.” He took a deep breath. “The deaths of your mother, father, grandmother, and brother were not accidental.”

The words sent Sophie’s emotions reeling. She opened her mouth to speak but was unable.

Langdon shook his head. “What are you saying?”

“Robert, it explains everything. All the pieces fit. History repeats itself. The Church has a precedent of murder when it comes to silencing the Sangreal. With the End of Days imminent, killing the Grand Master’s loved ones sent a very clear message. Be quiet, or you and Sophie are next.”

“It was a car accident,” Sophie stammered, feeling the childhood pain welling inside her. “An accident!

“Bedtime stories to protect your innocence,” Teabing said. “Consider that only two family members went untouched—the Priory’s Grand Master and his lone granddaughter—the perfect pair to provide the Church with control over the brotherhood. I can only imagine the terror the Church wielded over your grandfather these past years, threatening to kill you if he dared release the Sangreal secret, threatening to finish the job they started unless Saunière influenced the Priory to reconsider its ancient vow.”

“Leigh,” Langdon argued, now visibly riled, “certainly you have no proof that the Church had anything to do with those deaths, or that it influenced the Priory’s decision to remain silent.”

“Proof?” Teabing fired back. “You want proof the Priory was influenced? The new millennium has arrived, and yet the world remains ignorant! Is that not proof enough?”

In the echoes of Teabing’s words, Sophie heard another voice speaking. Sophie, I must tell you the truth about your family. She realized she was trembling. Could this possibly be that truth her grandfather had wanted to tell her? That her family had been murdered? What did she truly know about the crash that took her family? Only sketchy details. Even the stories in the newspaper had been vague. An accident? Bedtime stories? Sophie flashed suddenly on her grandfather’s overprotectiveness, how he never liked to leave her alone when she was young. Even when Sophie was grown and away at university, she had the sense her grandfather was watching over. She wondered if there had been Priory members in the shadows throughout her entire life, looking after her.

“You suspected he was being manipulated,” Langdon said, glaring with disbelief at Teabing. “So you murdered him?”

“I did not pull the trigger,” Teabing said. “Saunière was dead years ago, when the Church stole his family from him. He was compromised. Now he is free of that pain, released from the shame caused by his inability to carry out his sacred duty. Consider the alternative. Something had to be done. Shall the world be ignorant forever? Shall the Church be allowed to cement its lies into our history books for all eternity? Shall the Church be permitted to influence indefinitely with murder and extortion? No, something needed to be done! And now we are poised to carry out Saunière’s legacy and right a terrible wrong.” He paused. “The three of us. Together.”

Sophie felt only incredulity. “How could you possibly believe that we would help you?”

“Because, my dear, you are the reason the Priory failed to release the documents. Your grandfather’s love for you prevented him from challenging the Church. His fear of reprisal against his only remaining family crippled him. He never had a chance to explain the truth because you rejected him, tying his hands, making him wait. Now you owe the world the truth. You owe it to the memory of your grandfather.”

Robert Langdon had given up trying to get his bearings. Despite the torrent of questions running through his mind, he knew only one thing mattered now—getting Sophie out of here alive. All the guilt Langdon had mistakenly felt earlier for involving Teabing had now been transferred to Sophie.

I took her to Château Villette. I am responsible.

Langdon could not fathom that Leigh Teabing would be capable of killing them in cold blood here in the Chapter House, and yet Teabing certainly had been involved in killing others during his misguided quest. Langdon had the uneasy feeling that gunshots in this secluded, thick-walled chamber would go unheard, especially in this rain. And Leigh just admitted his guilt to us.

Langdon glanced at Sophie, who looked shaken. The Church murdered Sophie’s family to silence the Priory? Langdon felt certain the

modern Church did not murder people. There had to be some other explanation.

“Let Sophie leave,” Langdon declared, staring at Leigh. “You and I should discuss this alone.”

Teabing gave an unnatural laugh. “I’m afraid that is one show of faith I cannot afford. I can, however, offer you this.” He propped himself fully on his crutches, gracelessly keeping the gun aimed at Sophie, and removed the keystone from his pocket. He swayed a bit as he held it out for Langdon. “A token of trust, Robert.”

Robert felt wary and didn’t move. Leigh is giving the keystone back to us?

“Take it,” Teabing said, thrusting it awkwardly toward Langdon.

Langdon could imagine only one reason Teabing would give it back. “You opened it already. You removed the map.”

Teabing was shaking his head. “Robert, if I had solved the keystone, I would have disappeared to find the Grail myself and kept you uninvolved. No, I do not know the answer. And I can admit that freely. A true knight learns humility in the face of the Grail. He learns to obey the signs placed before him. When I saw you enter the abbey, I understood. You were here for a reason. To help. I am not looking for singular glory here. I serve a far greater master than my own pride. The Truth. Mankind deserves to know that truth. The Grail found us all, and now she is begging to be revealed. We must work together.”

Despite Teabing’s pleas for cooperation and trust, his gun remained trained on Sophie as Langdon stepped forward and accepted the cold marble cylinder. The vinegar inside gurgled as Langdon grasped it and stepped backward. The dials were still in random order, and the cryptex remained locked.

Langdon eyed Teabing. “How do you know I won’t smash it right now?”

Teabing’s laugh was an eerie chortle. “I should have realized your threat to break it in the Temple Church was an empty one. Robert Langdon would never break the keystone. You are an historian, Robert. You are holding the key to two thousand years of history— the lost key to the Sangreal. You can feel the souls of all the knights

burned at the stake to protect her secret. Would you have them die in vain? No, you will vindicate them. You will join the ranks of the great men you admire—Da Vinci, Botticelli, Newton—each of whom would have been honored to be in your shoes right now. The contents of the keystone are crying out to us. Longing to be set free. The time has come. Destiny has led us to this moment.”

“I cannot help you, Leigh. I have no idea how to open this. I only saw Newton’s tomb for a moment. And even if I knew the password

…” Langdon paused, realizing he had said too much.

“You would not tell me?” Teabing sighed. “I am disappointed and surprised, Robert, that you do not appreciate the extent to which you are in my debt. My task would have been far simpler had Rémy and I eliminated you both when you walked into Château Villette. Instead I risked everything to take the nobler course.”

“This is noble?” Langdon demanded, eyeing the gun.

“Saunière’s fault,” Teabing said. “He and his sénéchaux lied to Silas. Otherwise, I would have obtained the keystone without complication. How was I to imagine the Grand Master would go to such ends to deceive me and bequeath the keystone to an estranged granddaughter?” Teabing looked at Sophie with disdain. “Someone so unqualified to hold this knowledge that she required a symbologist baby-sitter.” Teabing glanced back at Langdon. “Fortunately, Robert, your involvement turned out to be my saving grace. Rather than the keystone remaining locked in the depository bank forever, you extracted it and walked into my home.”

Where else would I run? Langdon thought. The community of Grail historians is small, and Teabing and I have a history together.

Teabing now looked smug. “When I learned Saunière left you a dying message, I had a pretty good idea you were holding valuable Priory information. Whether it was the keystone itself, or information on where to find it, I was not sure. But with the police on your heels, I had a sneaking suspicion you might arrive on my doorstep.”

Langdon glared. “And if we had not?”

“I was formulating a plan to extend you a helping hand. One way or another, the keystone was coming to Château Villette. The fact

that you delivered it into my waiting hands only serves as proof that my cause is just.”

“What!” Langdon was appalled.

“Silas was supposed to break in and steal the keystone from you in Château Villette—thus removing you from the equation without hurting you, and exonerating me from any suspicion of complicity. However, when I saw the intricacy of Saunière’s codes, I decided to include you both in my quest a bit longer. I could have Silas steal the keystone later, once I knew enough to carry on alone.”

“The Temple Church,” Sophie said, her tone awash with betrayal.

Light begins to dawn, Teabing thought. The Temple Church was the perfect location to steal the keystone from Robert and Sophie, and its apparent relevance to the poem made it a plausible decoy. Rémy’s orders had been clear—stay out of sight while Silas recovers the keystone. Unfortunately, Langdon’s threat to smash the keystone on the chapel floor had caused Rémy to panic. If only Rémy had not revealed himself, Teabing thought ruefully, recalling his own mock kidnapping. Rémy was the sole link to me, and he showed his face!